The proper placement of the two-dot punctuation sign known as the colon causes no end of perplexity, but the consequences of misplacing it are usually not fatal. Not so the consequences of ignoring the part of the body with the same name.
My mother died of colon cancer at the age of 56. That puts my brother and me at higher risk for this form of cancer, which is the third most common type for both men and women (when each sex is considered separately) in the United States. Studies have also shown that its incidence is on the rise in many countries.
But it is also one of the most preventable cancers. Smoking, obesity and lack of exercise are among the risk factors, but a relatively simple procedure can prevent the disease in the majority of cases simply by, literally, nipping it in the bud.
I had a colonoscopy last Friday. I it was my fourth or fifth. In the procedure, usually performed under some form of anesthesia, the gastroenterologist takes a guided tour of your intestines, stopping to examine anything that looks suspicious. What arouses suspicion? Polyps: small growths that can be the precursors of colon cancer. The doctor snares and removes each polyp and sends it to a pathology lab.
So that the doctor can see the intestines clearly, they must be whistle clean. This means one has to prep by taking strong laxatives. The first time I had a colonoscopy, I had to swallow two gallons of vile-tasting liquid that made me gag with every sip. Now the system has been refined. This time I took two tiny pills, and then two additional installments, each consisting of one cup of a fruit-flavored solution plus six glasses of water.
I also canceled all appointments for 24 hours, because I knew I would be making frequent trips to the toilet before the procedure and that I would be groggy afterwards.
Today it is also possible to have a virtual colonoscopy, which is noninvasive. But the prep is the same, and if anything suspicious is found, a regular colonoscopy is necessary to remove it.
In a previous colonoscopy, my doctor found and removed three polyps. This time he found and removed two.
It’s not fun and it’s not something people like to discuss. But each of those five polyps, left to its own devices, could have turned into a killer.
That’s why I consider a colonoscopy an investment in life.
Text copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.